By Clyde Hughes | AC JosepH Media

CAMDEN — Social workers and Camden natives Yaniece Spencer and Rafiah Hickson wanted to give back to the Camden community they worked in and saw where boys needed mentors and resources.

Going into their fifth year, BOSS Mentoring is now assisting 25 boys in Camden County and their efforts caught the attention of the Camden Education Fund, which gave them a $25,000 grant to expand their services.

BOSS Mentoring, which is an acronym for Boys of Sustainable Strength, seeks to educate and support young men by providing workshops, life skills and career development through individual and group mentoring.

Spencer and Hickson said they recruit males to become mentors to the youth in their program, asking them for a commitment of at least one year so the mentees can have a dependable and constant influence in their lives.

“We want to provide them with a consistent role model,” Hickson told Front Runner New “We wanted to make sure they have someone dedicated and someone who will be helping them in guiding them with different issues. The grant will help us expand and recruit more mentors and impact more males. This will allow us to grow our program as a whole.”

Spencer and Hickson know the terrain well, growing up together in Camden. Spencer earned her bachelor’s degree in social work from Delaware State University and graduate degree in criminal justice from Saint Joseph’s University in 2012.

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Hickson earned her bachelor’s degree in sociology from Rutgers University-Camden and her master’s in social work from Rutgers School of Social Work.

The women said they decided to focus their volunteerism on boys when realizing through their own professional work that resources for boys were lacking.

“We wanted to do something to give back to the community,” Spencer said. “We wanted to do female mentoring at first but found out there were a lot of things out there already for females. We realized that boys needed more resources and services.”

Spencer and Hickson said while the organization is driven by females, they lay the groundwork to facilitate the male mentor connection.

“We’ve already started the leg work,” Spencer said. “We recruit mentors. Some people would ask, “You are females. How are you mentoring males?’ We realize [the mentees] not only need that father figure and that mentor; they also need the nurturing from a female or a mother protector.”

Spencer said she has been pleased with the responses she has received from the youth in the program, with some of the youngsters participating for the five years the program has been around.

“They love it and the parents love it,” Spencer said. “One of the kids has been with me all week. They love knowing that there’s someone out here that cares for them and that their input matters. We do parenting programs and we found they want to engage more and have that relationship. The feedback we’ve gotten from parents and kids is that we’re like a family.”

Spencer and Hickson have used their own private funds to keep BOSS Mentoring go beyond donations. She said the Camden Education Fund grant will help them expand, it’s only a start of some of their needs. While the group operates out of New Pilgrim Baptist Church in downtown Camden, they need their own building to sustain their growth.

“We would love to have our own building as soon as possible,” Spencer said. “The building we were looking at needs a lot of work and that’s something we can’t afford. The building would have to be gutted from top to bottom.”

Hickson said BOSS Mentoring is also constantly looking for new mentors to engage with the youth. She said there is an open enrollment period coming up for mentees and are open to youth in Gloucester and Burlington counties as long as they can make it to events in Camden.

“Rafiah and I took money out of our own pockets to make sure the organization got off the ground running,” Spencer said. “We do a lot for our kids, more than most. They get Christmas gifts and gift cards throughout the year. We go on weekend trips. Rafi and I dedicate so much time to this program where we are not rightfully compensated, but it’s because we’re dedicated and it’s something we want to do.”

That dedication to help the Camden community now has a chance to benefit a greater number of young people and expand its impact throughout the city and county.

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